This is the continuing story of my “Worst to First” youth football coaching experience in Reno, Nevada this year. I took an 8th grade team that had won about 6 games in the last 6 years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area. Traveling back and forth weekly from Lincoln, Nebraska to Reno.This scrimmage game was going to be so important for the psyche of this youth football team. Even though we had only practiced 10 times, 5 in pads, if the results were the same as they had been in the past, the kids would think that 2014 would be a rerun of the past 6 seasons. As the week closed out, the kids were starting to get it. Our pace was getting there, we had fewer lapses in precision and attendance at practice had improved. Instead of 5-6 kids missing it was usually just 1, sometimes 2.
On offense the 4 plays I had wanted to use in the game were looking pretty tight. Our offensive line was coming off the ball fast thanks to our cadence clap count drills and our base first two steps were at the right angles, pad level, good hip level and heads on the correct side. With the exception of 1-2 players we were very accurate in applying the blocking rules correctly to the defense. Our snaps were consistent, not perfect, but out of 20 plays 19 snaps would be in the acceptable range, 1 poor snap and 15 perfect ones.
In the backfield, we were executing the plays well, we were blocking the correct players on every play, but our open field blocking wasn’t quite there. We worked ball security every practice, that was very good. The fakes weren’t there yet, but making some progress. We continued to have the backs practice from 6-8, while the line practiced from 5:30-7:30.
I still spent most of the overlapped time as always coaching youth football Linemen. The Back coaches were using the cheat cards to implement the drills written on the daily practice plans. When running the plays in skeleton or on air during the overlapped time, the coaches would use the offensive play cheat cards. I would jump over to their group from time to time for just a minute or two to speed up the pace and quality control. For the week we were still at about 60 minutes of individual development drills, 30 minutes of group and 30 minutes of team.
For the Friday practice prior to the Saturday scrimmage game, we went 70 minutes in team. As always we alternated what we emphasized one day was offense, the next was defense. We were all one or the other every day and we practiced the same amount of defensive days as offens9ve days. That Friday practice we worked on both offense and defense in preparation for the scrimmage game.
The original intention was to come into the game with 4 plays. During practice, our kids really had those 4 down cold. We had contests to see how many perfect plays we could do in a row. How do you define a perfect youth football play? You start by making the linemen freeze in place at 2 steps, if they are supposed to pull or go to second level, they have to freeze on contact with a coach or helper holding a bag there. The backs freeze on the “defender” he is supposed to block and the runner or faker runs the play out for 15 yards. We are looking for perfection on who AND how, everyone has to be blocking the correct defender based on the blocking scheme and rules applied to that play. The angle of attack, hips, toes and head have to be correct, our backs have to be attacking at the correct angles and at full speed. A coach releases a player from the freeze with a tap on the players shoulder and any correction is quickly verbalized. Coaches signal if they had any no-gos.
Everything has to be perfect, the snap has to be midpoint to the palms of the correct back and everyone has to run back in place and aligned for the next play, quickly with a sense of urgency. We will usually sub in 11 on every rep, so if it’s 9 or 11, everyone has to be running full speed on the rotation and get aligned perfectly and quickly. Stances and alignment have to be perfect, that means no staggered line, no toes pointed outwards, perfect means perfect. We were consistently getting 9-10 perfect plays in a row on offense and were aligning and responding correctly on defense at about the same clip on defensive recognition.
We set a goal, if on offense we could do 20 perfect plays in a row in under 5 minutes, we would add in another play. Our goal in season in team offensive practice is 1 snap every 15 seconds with 11 in and 11 subbed out. That was not how we did it. With 4 kids who had never played football on the team and this being so new to so many, we limited the substitutions for this particular exercise at 16-17 kids out of 23. The others got reps that day, but not like in the past where everyone got the same number of reps in team. We had several rookie players that were really far behind and we simply had to move ahead or the entire team would suffer.
The kids loved competing against themselves and they hit the goal, so as promised we added an adjustment we call Nasty Tunnel to the off-tackle power and a play action pass. While we had worked some on passing and receiving fundamentals on offensive days, we hadn’t put anything in during team. Our Tight Ends to this point hadn’t done any pass catching outside an initial evaluation. Predictably the play action pass play wasn’t very good, we were completing just 2-4 out of 10 on air with no defenders.
On defense, how do you prepare for a team that you have no clue what they run? Since we were in man instead of zone at this EARLY portion of the season for all the reasons I mentioned on the last post, we had to be able to align on what we see most in youth football. We worked on the basic youth football alignments most of us see: double tight full house, full house with a split end, I formation with double tight and wing, same with a split and slot, double slot, double wing, trips and those variations with a Quarterback in the gun. For plays, we just repped off-tackle, dive, sweep, counter, bootleg, power pass, 3 verticals and bubble. So we left out a lot, we had to.
As practice ended we talked about the scrimmage game. We were looking for several things:
Effort– 100% effort to the whistle on every single play
Precision– On alignments 100% perfection on alignments and spacing
Technique– Staying true to the techniques taught in the previous 2 weeks
Attitude- Positive and aggressive, no negativity in words, actions or body language
Pace– On offense, run plays every 15 seconds
Ball Security– Consistent ball protection, no turnovers
The game would be taped and put up on Hudl so there was 100% accountability for all. I also talked about how we would define success. Success with this youth football team would all be about how well we did the above 6 things. I explained we had put in just a tiny fraction of what we would put in before game 1 or game 12, so we shouldn’t expect a big blowout win, but what we did expect was a fundamentally sound, aggressive team that aligned well and played hard.
The results for that first scrimmage game will be detailed on the next post. We hope you can apply some of what you’ve read to your youth football coaching experience.